Parents, let’s talk about balance. Not about work/life balance, I’m pretty sure you can find hundreds of articles and talks and debates about that with a mere click of the Google. I’m talking about “Me Time” balance, about being able to feed your soul without neglecting (or feeling like you’re neglecting) your partner and children. In fact, I would go so far as to say that you can even nourish your soul while still feeling like you’re putting your family first. Trust me.
Before you had kids, you took cooking classes and you painted landscapes and you sang in a barbershop quartet. You attended concerts, plays, fashion shows, gallery openings, fairs, bazaars, and swap meets. You ran marathons, rode centuries, and took long weekends to go camping. Your passport was full of stamps. You took continuing ed classes for the fun of it. You napped with impunity. And you did all of this while furthering your career and seeing your friends on a regular basis.
Now you have offspring, some of whom are still in the sleep-robbing barnacle stage of life. You (and/or your partner) have to work, the roof needs to stay over your head and food needs to stay on the table. Those hours away from your loved ones are necessary and unavoidable. So when you are at home, and the necessary chores (dishes, laundry, bill maintenance, etc) have been taken care of, it’s not unreasonable to think that taking any time for yourself away from your family isn’t just selfish, it’s abhorrent and irresponsible. Shame on anyone who thinks that’s an ok judgement. I’m going to share a piece of wisdom I gathered somewhere and I want all of you to internalize it: your children will benefit the most from having parents who are happy and fulfilled. Your life doesn’t stop because you had children, you just add them to the fun.
So during the barnacle stage, it’s important for you to identify what your soul needs and practice equal time. In our house, that meant that my husband got a few hours a month to go on a long bike ride, and we went twice a month to the climbing gym. We took Baz and one of us would sit with him while the other was on the wall. It means that I go one night a month to book club, and he gets a night out with his friends once a month (although getting their schedules together means that happens far less frequently than we’d like.) It means that for the first year or so, you have to say both “I need” and “I know you need” and then you have to follow through. If nothing else, mamas, take a nightly bath with your infant and then pass him off to your partner. While your partner dries, diapers, etc., your precious giggly pudgy baby, you turn on the hot water, dry your hands, and spend fifteen minutes alone with your favorite book (or just sit and meditate).
The family balance part of that comes with the parent who is in charge of the kid(s) while the other is Soul Feeding. It is important to treat that time like a date. That time is not for chores or errands, it’s for bonding. It is also important to make the rest of family life feel like family time. Luckily, our kids generally like to do what we do. It wasn’t long before Baz was climbing the walls, he’s getting quicker and quicker on his balance bike, and now one of his favorite things is to teach his brother the way that I once taught him. It won’t be long before they’re both helping with the cooking, and painting their canvases while I paint mine.
The boys know that they can, from time to time, come along on our Soul Feeding trips (not Steve’s long rides; it’ll be many years before they’re ready to ride their bikes on the mountain highways out here); but they also know that when we go out without them, we’re going to come home refreshed and happier than when we left. They know we’ll be more patient, more enthusiastic, and more fun. The explanation that worked the best for Baz, who is closing in on 4, was this: “You know how you love playing with your friends and doing art at preschool? And how you love playing at the park with your friends? Mommy and Daddy love playing with their friends, too, sometimes. It’s nice to just talk with our friends and have some time to just play, isn’t it?” Kids get the idea of just playing. You should, too.